DETROIT -- Justin Verlander left his season debut with the lead, but the Indians capitalized on the Tigers' bullpen to break their struggles with Detroit. David Murphy tripled in the tying run off Blaine Hardy and scored on Yan Gomes' sacrifice fly off Alex Wilson, putting Cleveland up for good in a 5-4 win Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park.
"This is a big win, especially coming here and getting a win," Indians closer Cody Allen said. "Hopefully, we can come out tomorrow and play good baseball and win the series."
Verlander, who missed the first two-plus months of the season with a right triceps strain, delivered five innings of two-run ball, allowing a Carlos Santana fourth-inning solo homer and a Jason Kipnis fifth-inning sacrifice fly. The latter was a bit of damage control after two walks and a single created a bases-loaded, one-out jam as Verlander's fastball velocity jumped from 94 to 97 mph.
"Just pitching to the situation," Verlander said. "It was a little bit more energy in a big situation. I don't want to say it worked against me. It was nice to see in that situation."
That was it for Verlander at 87 pitches. Hardy had given up only one earned run in nearly two months and hadn't given up a lead all season, but the left-hander gave up two hits and a hard-hit out to the three left-handed batters in the middle of the Indians' order, putting the Tribe in position to pull ahead.
Cleveland received a decent effort from starter Carlos Carrasco (three runs and eight strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings en route to his eighth win), but won the battle of the bullpens. The Tribe needed a huge out in the ninth to do so.
Allen had runners at the corners and one out for J.D. Martinez, who homered an inning earlier to draw Detroit within a run. This time, Martinez hit a grounder to short to start the Tigers' 65th double play this season and cap Allen's 14th save of the season, his third four-out version.
"He's so good at what he does," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Allen. "He competes. There's a reason why you're patient with guys like that [after a rough start to a season], because you know they're good."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Center of attention: It looked like Cleveland would have its first hit off Verlander in the first inning, when Michael Brantley drilled a two-out pitch deep to center field. Instead, fleet-footed center fielder Anthony Gose ended the inning in emphatic fashion. Gose tracked the line drive down on a dead sprint, leaping at the last second and snaring the ball from the air with a dramatic diving catch, though one he downplayed.
"I made a catch," Gose said. "[Verlander] said thank you. Gotta keep playing the game." More >
Power switch: Santana's leadoff shot against Verlander in the fourth marked the first baseman's seventh blast of the year and the 105th career home run with the Indians. That moved Santana past Carlos Baerga (104 homers with the Indians from 1990-96 and '99) for the most homers by a switch-hitter in Cleveland history.
"I didn't know that," Santana said with a smile. "It's exciting for me to get the most home runs for a switch hitter. … It's special. I didn't get the ball. I'll have to remind [the clubhouse guys]."
Breaking through: Following Verlander's exit, Cleveland jumped on Detroit's bullpen for a pair of runs in the sixth inning, grabbing a 4-3 lead in the process. Brantley led off with a single and later scored the game's tying run when Murphy sent a pitch bouncing to the wall in right-center field for a triple. Gomes then used a sac fly to left field to give the Tribe the lead in the sixth, and added an RBI double in the eighth for an important insurance run.
Doubled up: A day after the Tigers shut out the Tribe with help from four ground-ball double plays, they stayed close with a heads-up double play from the outfield. With Al Alburquerque struggling for an out with runners on first and second and one out in the eighth, Yoenis Cespedes ran down Michael Bourn's sinking liner and fired to second baseman Ian Kinsler to double up Gomes. It was Cespedes' seventh assist of the season.
"Their offense is so good that the game can be turned around in the blink of an eye. You never feel comfortable with any type of lead against these guys. We have a ton of confidence in our pitching staff, but we've seen it before, especially with the top of their lineup coming up. Any team, with a one-run lead and Miguel Cabrera at the plate, is going to feel a little bit uneasy in the dugout. It was awesome that we finished it off right there." -- Murphy
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Santana now has six home runs in his career against Verlander, marking the most against the Tigers pitcher among active hitters. The only other Major League batter with more career homers against Verlander is former slugger Jim Thome (seven).
In the fourth inning, Jose Iglesias stole second base with two outs, appearing to slide into the bag just ahead of the tag from second baseman Kipnis. Francona challenged the safe call, but the ruling stood after a replay review lasting one minute and 51 seconds. One pitch later, Rajai Davis brought Iglesias home with an RBI double to left field.
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: Ace Corey Kluber will take the mound for the Tribe on Sunday, when the club wraps up a three-game set against the Tigers at Comerica Park at 1:08 p.m. ET. The right-hander is riding a streak of six straight starts in which he's logged at least seven innings. In that span, Kluber has a 2.11 ERA with 63 strikeouts against just six walks in 47 innings. He picked up a hard-luck loss on Tuesday after giving up two runs over seven innings against Seattle.
Tigers:Alfredo Simon will try to beat Cleveland for the third time this season when he takes the mound for Sunday's series finale. He gave up four runs on 13 hits over 12 innings in two meetings back in April.